Friday, 07 October 2016 14:51
Planting bulbs in fall gives us a chance to thumb our noses at winter. It is an act of faith. You may be planting flower bulbs, but you are really sowing nature’s promise that the dark days of winter will eventually pass. These small bulbs are a miracle in themselves. Think of them as rechargeable batteries. They don’t store electricity but “growth energy.” When you buy bulbs, they’re all “charged up” for you by the producer in Holland. Daffodils, tulips and all the Dutch bulbs are offered for sale in the fall because they need 8 weeks of chilling to stimulate their growth cycle. This is another case where timing is everything. Take a look at the information on the packages the bulbs come in. To plan your bulb planting, you’ll need to understand some important details. On each package, you’ll see bloom times listed as “early spring, mid spring, late spring and early summer.” Here’s how I interpret these bloom times at my house: Early Spring = late March-mid April. Mid Spring = mid April- mid May. Late Spring = late April-late May and Early Summer = late May –June. A warm spring will cause your bulbs to flower earlier and a cool one will hold them back a bit so you’ll have to go with the flow. Also on the package is flower height. This will help you avoid putting taller plants in front of shorter ones that bloom at the same time. Height information is also handy when mixing bulbs into established perennial flowerbeds. It’s always best to seek out the highest quality bulbs. The best bulbs come from The Netherlands. The Dutch have been producing flower bulbs since the 1500’s so it is no wonder that the quality of their bulbs is unsurpassed by anyone anywhere. The rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to dig the hole two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Don’t be too fussy though since bulbs will actually reposition themselves at the proper depth as they grow over time. The most important soil amendment for bulbs is bone meal. The phosphorus in bone meal is vital in restoring and expanding the bulbs after the flowering period. You need to mix bone meal into the soil BELOW the bulb so the roots grow down through it. Most bulbs have a pointy side and a rounded side. There are also dry, shriveled roots on the bottom of the bulb so ‘pointy side up and root side down’ is the way to go. If you still can’t figure it out, just plant the bulb sideways. The roots know which way to grow and will actually pull the bulb upright as they grow. Helpful little bulbs, aren’t they? The trick to perpetual success with bulbs is in knowing how to “recharge the battery” after they flower in spring. The “growth energy” stored in the bulb is quickly depleted during the all-out effort to flower. After the flowers go by, cut them off including the stem. This prevents the bulb from wasting “growth energy” producing seeds. That “growth energy” is instead directed to the bulb where it is stored until next spring’s flowering cycle. Feed your bulbs a good bulb food during their growth cycle starting when the first shoots appear in spring. Think of the bulbs’ leaves as solar collectors that change sunlight into “growth energy” that is sent to the bulb below for storage. Don’t cut off these solar collectors when you remove the spent blossoms. Let them remain until they finish charging up your “bulb batteries.” The leaves will eventually turn yellow letting you know when it’s time to cut them off. That’s it…pretty simple really. If you take time this fall to plant bulbs, you’ll thank yourself when they emerge after the gloomy winter to announce the arrival of spring. Now, here’s a list of some of my favorites. Narcissus: At the top of my list has to be Narcissus or Daffodils. Reliable and deer resistant, daffodils will always find a home in my gardens. From the small early flowering Tete-a-tete to the large cupped later varieties, narcissus always make me smile. They are great as a cut flower so you can bring a bit of spring inside to enjoy. Crocus: One of the first we see in the spring, crocuses are reliable and reproduce quickly. Everyone should have some crocus planted in their flowerbeds or growing in the lawn among the grass. Muscari (Grape Hyacinth): The color blue is rare among flowers, and muscari treat us to a beautiful blue right at the beginning of the season. Besides, if the honeybees love muscari, how could I not? Tulips: While I’m not overly fond of most tulips, there are a few that have won my heart. I live in a vey windy location so I need tulips that are short or have very strong stems. Scilla: Scilla is another small blue flower that I love for it’s reliability. They also reproduce more quickly than any other flower bulb I know and will easily spread from the flowerbed into the lawn. I’m happy to let scilla loose wherever it wants to roam. Allium: Allium is a large family of bulbs that includes garlic and onions. The fancy flowering cousins we find in the fall bulb selection have become quite popular in the last ten years….and with good reason. Alliums are very hardy, reliable and critter resistant. They produce some of the largest and showiest flowers of any of the fall bulbs. New varieties show up every year and they reproduce easily so you will have more flowers to enjoy every year. Thanks for the read.